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‘Hourglass’ a Spunky Blend of Graphic Novel, Tap Dance

July 2, 2008

By Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune

Jul. 2–As an exercise in genre blending, “The Hourglass and the Poisoned Pen” is quite the workout.

It forges a most unlikely alloy: the graphic novel and tap dancing. Coming from Chicago Tap Theatre, that’s no surprise. This is a troupe devoted to a new tap sensibility, a fearless pursuit that, among other achievements, got them a gig at last summer’s Lollapalooza.

“Hourglass” mixes postmodern theater, pulp comics and hoofing, told without spoken dialogue, but with narrative paragraphs flashed on a screen and giant scenery boards turned like pages of an oversize comic.

Bold? You bet. Even Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly used tap as illustrations planted in conventional drama, though their dances-within-a movie in “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Bandwagon” do come to mind.

Chicago Tap is not on that level, choreographically or otherwise. “The Hourglass” is a scrappy, uneven production. Despite mixed success with its many stylistic innovations, it’s still fun, a summer bright spot more often than a burden.

The story, by Andrew Pepoy and the ensemble, tells of Elizabeth (Kendra Jorstad), a young woman with superpowers enabling her to slow down time, and her good friend Daphne (Jennifer Pfaff), who operates a comic book store. They become embroiled in a plot involving thieving musicians, led by a female conductor (Jenna Deidel). But the real villain, in a bit of inspired, impish satire, is a music critic (Mark Yonally, the show’s choreographer), who suffers from “an inflated sense of importance.”

Yonally often does an impressive job employing tap as storyteller, and his intricate, rhythmic echoes of the varied musical selections–everything from classical strains to the Ditty Bops–are clever and energetic. He does a pretty mean solo, and Jorstad hits pay dirt in a raucous, high-octane blast near the end.

But all the cooks involved sometimes make for muddy stretches. An early duet for Elizabeth and Daphne is ho-hum compared with a later one, and Kyle Terry’s fight choreography is a disappointment. All the elements don’t quite gel.

Still, “Hourglass” is a marvel of a work in progress, spunky and fresh.

“The Hourglass and the Poisoned Pen” plays through July 20 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Call 312-902-1500.

sismith@tribune.com

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